Bartz: 'Look for Yahoo to kick ass again'
There was no all-lower-case text, an absence of apology, not a single metaphor, and a definitive lack of "peanut butter" in yesterday's appearances, both in public and online, from new Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz. Upon assuming the post from Jerry Yang, Bartz said she would clean house, and analysts were told to expect fireworks. She absolutely delivered.
"Our brand [is] one of our biggest assets," Bartz wrote in her premiere on her new company's old blog yesterday. "Mention Yahoo practically anywhere in the world, and people yodel. But in the past few years, we haven't been as clear in showing the world what the Yahoo brand stands for. We're going to change that. Look for this company's brand to kick ass again."
There are no precise details yet as to what those changes are, though after the carnage of this past week, change will be definitely required. Just prior to Bartz' big announcement yesterday, a brief statement filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday revealed that Blake Jorgensen, hired in May 2007 by then-CEO Terry Semel to orchestrate a "growth plan," is on his way out pending the naming of his replacement. Jorgensen replaced Susan Decker, who worked her way back up in the company to become president, only to leave the day of Bartz' hiring.
Later yesterday, we did see evidence that Bartz' notion of a new "growth plan" will not be financial first -- it'll be organizational. While the CFO's post at Yahoo had been perceived by some as the "right hand" of the chief executives, Bartz yesterday announced the creation of a very non-Yahoo-sounding new role, Chief of Staff, and appointed current company strategist Joel Jones to that position. Perhaps no corporate title sounds more contrary to the typical Yahoo philosophy than "Chief of Staff."
In terms of pure strategic direction, Bartz was more explicit in her blog post to the general public than in her memo to her own employees, the complete text of which was hard-wired to The Wall Street Journal's Kara Swisher via that reporter's dedicated Yahoo corporate memo revelation service. The blog post took the extra step of explaining to Yahoo customers the reason behind what appears, based on both the smoke and the fire, to have been the complete obliteration of the company's technology personnel structure.
"We'll be able to make speedier decisions, the notorious silos are gone, and we have a renewed focus on the customer," Bartz wrote. "For you using Yahoo every day, it will better enable us to deliver products that make you say, 'Wow.'"
The "silos" to which Bartz referred are the subdivisions into which projects eventually and inevitably fall. Last year, Ari Balogh was brought in as CTO, and immediately introduced a concept called Y!OS (Yahoo Open...something). It represented a kind of platform for facilitating open contribution among developers both inside and outside of the company, and a revolutionary concept for Yahoo.
But it's gone pretty much nowhere under Yang's and Decker's leadership. In fact, the message Yahoo's own management gave to venture capitalists at the time was noticeably weaker than Balogh's own efforts at evangelizing developers. Last May, following a personal presentation by Yahoo management, well-known venture capitalist Jeffrey Nolan was so unimpressed by what he had heard about Y!OS that he blogged about it to the general public. Nolan apparently hadn't seen the tape of Balogh, and couldn't even come to the same conclusions as we did from watching a developers' conference video online.
As Nolan -- who was, after all, being urged to invest serious money in Yahoo and Y!OS -- wrote at the time, "The advice was given to me that we should develop on some of the Yahoo technologies to build goodwill because 'that gets people here interested.' That's all well and good but I'm not inclined to invest my scarce development resources on a development exercise whose sole purpose is to prove I'm serious. The days when I'll trek down to Yahoo HQ and prostrate myself on the steps and wait with breathless anticipation for a hand to reach down to anoint me the chosen one are over…even Google doesn't make me do that. Lots of [business development] people like to suggest that you should develop with their technologies to get things going and it's always bull****. It's an excuse they use to mask their ineffectiveness at the hands of a silo'ed and bureaucratic organization. Yahoo is about as silo'ed as they come."
Not any more. Carol Bartz literally destroyed the technology and product division line of her company yesterday, resulting in a single development group called Products. (After all, the company does develop technology products, or at least is supposed to.) Leading that single group is a new title called Executive Vice President for Products, which will be joined with the CTO's post, and which will be led by Ari Balogh. His survival and apparent promotion are indicators that Y!OS may actually be put to real use, and Nolan might want to consider scheduling a meeting with whoever gets appointed to answer to Balogh -- it probably won't be the same crew who bored him before.
Also being blown up and remade is the company's support division; and here again, Bartz said more to the general public than she did indirectly to Kara Swisher: "I've noticed that a lot of us on the inside don't spend enough time looking to the outside. That's why I'm creating a new Customer Advocacy group. After getting a lot of angry calls at my office from frustrated customers, I realized we could do a better job of listening to and supporting you." No appointment has yet been made there to lead that group.
And Yahoo's marketing will be led by a Chief Marketing Officer from now on; for that post, Bartz has appointed former senior vice president of marketing for storage solutions provider NetApp Elisa Steele. She's a former vice president at Sun Microsystems, and before that, a general manager at AT&T.
In her memo to the public, Bartz said wherever she mentions the name Yahoo, people yodel. One gets the distinct impression, judging from her general's demeanor with the troops, and with the shock-and-awe of her early tactics, that any yodeling to be heard within the ranks from now on will only be with permission.